Playstation TV: not ready for prime time
So, the Playstation TV was finally released a few days ago in the US. Sony put some huge emphasis on the features of the device, in particular the possibility to access the PS Vita catalog of game, the streaming library of Playstation Now games, and the remote play functionality that lets you play your PS4 in another room.
When the Playstation TV was released in Japan one year ago (it was then still named “Vita TV”), I reviewed the product and was majorly unsatisfied with it (my review here). The main issues of the Vita TV was that it failed as a “Vita”, and it failed as a “TV” box. Basically, both the gaming functionality and the media streaming features were sub par. I shared my fears that the Western Playstation TV might have the same issues that could be found on the Japanese vita TV, in an article entitled “Will the Playstation TV fix Vita TV’s mistakes?“. My concerns were around the small compatibility of Vita games with the Vita TV, and the lack of third party streaming applications support (youtube, Netflix, etc…)
Video, Media, Streaming
It turns out my concerns were accurate. At launch, the Playstation TV in the US does not support Netflix, Amazon Instant video, Hulu or even Youtube. Neither can you find mainstream audio streaming services such as spotify. In today’s world, where even the simplest $55 device supports pretty much every streaming service there is, it is not acceptable to enter the market with a set top box that has so few options.
It is not clear why the Playstation TV does not support these third party services. Was it rushed for launch? Are Sony running into contract issues with the companies creating these apps? (Netflix for example stated they have “no plan” tobring their service on the Playstation TV). Or is it a strange attempts on Sony’s side to push their own video on demand and music streaming (Music Unlimited) services?
The Playstation TV, as it is today, fails on the “TV” part, just like the vita TV did. For $100, it does not compete against even the simplest Android dongle, or the likes of Fire TV or Roku. It is more expensive and has overall less media features
How well do those work on the PS TV?
The PS TV lets gamers play a subset of Vita games, PSP games, as well as PS One classics. Unfortunately, that library is quite limited, with less than 150 Vita games supported, about 80 Playstation Mobile games, 260 PSP Games, 130 PS One clasics, and about 125 PSP minis. Yes, one might argue that it’s about 700 games total, probably more than I’ll ever have the time to play in my life, but unfortunately that’s not enough to avoid frustration on the gamers end. In general, you don’t care that the device supports 150 vita games, if your 3 or 4 favorite games are not on the compatibility list.
Let’s focus on Vita games for example. Wikipedia says there are 799 Vita games on the Vita today. This means 18% of Vita games are compatible with the PS TV. In other words, when you buy a Vita game, you have 4 chances out of 5 that it will not work on the PS TV. It is important here once again to emphasize that when the device was announced, Sony’s CEO stated that the Playstation TV would support “most” Vita games. I’ll let you the judge to determine if 18% support is what you would classify as “most” in your vocabulary. It is also important to note that when the Vita TV was introduced in Japan one year ago, that ratio was 17%. This means there was no specific effort, in the course of one year, to increase the compatibility of Vita games with the PS TV. In other words, if your favorite Vita game does not work on the PS TV at launch, there are good chances it will never work on it.
— Techni Myoko (@NeoTechni) October 14, 2014
As I mentioned when the Vita TV was out, a much cleverer move would have been from Sony to give users a warning that the game might not run properly, but let them run it anyway. In many, many cases, most of the “incompatible” games can actually be played on the Vita TV for the most part, if you ignore the gimmicks that require the touch screen or back touch pad. Worth mentioning here again, it is not like Sony prevents you from buying incompatible games in the first place, they just give you a warning at purchase time that the game might not work. They were two combinations they could have gone with: let you buy the game and let you play it (with a warning that it might not work properly); or prevent you from buying the game entirely. Instead they made the worst possible choice, letting you buy the game but not play it
As a result, the Playstation TV does not have a Vita library that is big enough to satisfy users. As I stated when I reviewed the Japanese Vita TV, the experience is great for Vita games that accept to run, but the poor compatibility ratio prevents this from making it a killer feature, and will generally lead to frustration. PS One, PSP, PSM games are anecdotal at this point. Playing PSP games on a HDTV is not a great experience, as I have stated in my Vita TV review last year.
PS Now, Remote Play
Playstation Now and PS4 remote play remain the main selling factors of the PSTV today. Unfortunately these 2 services are a bit of hit and miss. PS now’s main problem today is the pricing, too expensive to be reallyattractive for most gamers. You can check Fate6’s experience with PS Now here.
As far as PS4 remote play is concerned, many people are reporting speed issues, and overall the experience doesn’t feel great, just ok.
Just like when it was called the Vita TV, the Playstation TV is a perfect example of a great concept that is totally ruined by Sony’s inability to deliver properly on any front: The Playstation TV is bad as a TV box and does not compete against the Fire TV or the Roku. The game library is too limited and frustrating for people who actually would want to play vita games. The “exclusive” features such as PS Now and PS4 remote play feel overpriced and experimental respectively.
Bottom line is, my opinion on the PS TV hasn’t changed since my review of the Japanese release last year. When I posted my review and gave the device a note of 4 out of 10 (which by the way means exactly what it is: “below average”), people called me out for being too harsh for the device. I am glad today, while reading reviews from mainstream gadget sites, that “professionals” are in agreement today with what I called out a year ago.
Conclusion 2: Homebrew capability
For those of us interested in homebrew, it is worth mentioning that the Playstation TV, on its default firmware 3.20, runs a variety of PSP exploits that lets you enjoy emulators and PSP isos, turning the PS TV into a very acceptable emulation/homebrew machine. Among other things running through these exploits are gems such as the Final Fantasy Type 0 unofficial English translation, A variety of emulators, and a bunch of cool homebrews. Details here. For those who upgraded to the latest 3.30 firmware, there is also good hope at this point that a VHBL port will be made eventually.
Finally, the recent Webkit exploit was confirmed to be working on the PS TV, up to firmware 3.20 (not 3.30!)